Hopper and his Hype

Edward Hopper: legendary painter, influential realist, and an inspiration to many. A master, if you will. But does his mass-market appeal from the non-artistic world throw doubt over his simple yet stark style? Should we really buy in to the hype?

Personally, I do believe the hype, I only wish there was less of it. The popularity of Hopper’s work extends far beyond the world of fine art – many directors have used Hopper’s vision, creation, and use of light as a feature in their motion pictures. One such example is Hopper’s House by the Railroad (1925):

This idea is said to have featured in both Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), as well as in the Terrence Malick film Days of Heaven (1978). The resemblance between the above painting and the houses featured in the two films is certainly uncanny:

Another Hopper piece to have become hugely commercial is Nighthawks (1942), which features a couple seated at a late-night diner:

This atmospheric piece has inspired and been cited by countless movies, including Hard Candy, Blade Runner, Deep Red, and see below for a recreation of the scene in Herbert Ross’ depression-era film, Pennies From Heaven (1981). Apart from the obvious physical similarities of the scene, is there really any comparison?  It is my opinion that the painting offers us true insight to a scene, complete with sounds, smells and feelings, which the movie snapshot is simply unable to provide. Perhaps art should remain art and not be muddied by the desperate attempts of cinemographers to create their own reproductions:

You’d be wrong in thinking the influence of Hopper’s work stops in Hollywood – this particular picture has also inspired comic books, such as “Hopper’s” diner in Batman: Year One and television shows such as That ‘70s Show have formed their own recreations. Cartoons, such as The Simpsons; video games such as The Sims; novels such as Chris Bell’s 2004 novel Liquidambar; newspapers; Japanese animation and magazines have all similarly employed the painting’s influence. In fact, little media has been left untouched by the piece – there’s something for everyone!

But I think the most peculiar is the translation of the painting from a visual standpoint into the medium of music. In 1993, Madonna embarked upon the Girlie Show tour, supposedly theatrically and musically inspired by the mood of Hopper’s 1941 piece of the same name. Canadian rock band The Weakerthans, British guitarist John Squire, and Polish composer Paweł Szymański are amongst the countless other musicians to have fallen for the mysterious charms of the interpretive storytelling of Hopper’s art.  This form of influence I buy into least of all, mainly because we all interpret art differently, so to liken one’s creative ideas to that of a great artist could be considered presumptuous.

This magnitude of influence does reflect well on Hopper, and the fact his ideas can transcend from painting to such a wide range of other formats and eras is surely homage to his unrivalled ability to turn a simple scene into something of beauty and intrigue seen only in his unique and unwavering style. His pieces evidently provide as much inspiration today as they did in the 20th century.

But commercialism (or ‘excessive influence’) is a vicious thing, which Hopper himself never foresaw – why are we not content with appreciating Hopper’s art for what it is?

Visit the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum’s Hopper Exhibition, which continues until 16 September 2012, for a close-up of Hopper’s work. Alternatively, take his art home with you with his lavishly-illustrated ebook.